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The NE Spahtens Show – Episode 4

In our fourth episode of the NE Spahtens Show – Paul, Josh and Sandy talk about the recent 2016 Citi Field and it’s success, Battlefrog and their lack of success, new Worlds Toughest Mudder rules and dig into the OCR World Championship Journeyman division.

We also answer a couple of excellent listener questions!

Subscribe to NE Spahtens on iTunes or Stitcher to get podcasts delivered right to your mobile device!

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Spartan Race – Citi Field, a spectators point of view

Citi Field

(“Review” of the Spartan Race Citi Field, from the persepctive of a many-time spectator…)

The pluses:

Spartan Race, as they usually do, put on another typically Spartan event. And I don’t mean this in a bad way–it was full of energy, full of excitement on and off the track. The obstacles themselves were, by all accounts, your expected-by-now set of well-designed, creative challenges.

You had your elites getting off early in the proceedings, out to try to better their own times or set new times for others to chase. You had your first-time Spartans, many with their own inspirational tales of strength, perseverance, and triumph, ecstatic to make it successfully across the finish line. In other words, you had your typical Spartan story.

And it was a gorgeous venue: the relatively new Citi Field in New York City (Queens), home of the Mets. Easily accessible and lots of parking to boot. A beautiful backdrop.

The minuses:

There was one overarching downside to Saturday’s proceedings, one which unfortunately seeped into almost every aspect of the overall experience, and one which will dominate this review:

There were simply too many racers allowed to compete for a one-day event in a confined venue.

My personal uh-oh moment came from the moment I ascended the stairs from the lobby up to the main concourse. My first reaction was not “another Spartan Race–yes!” but rather (and almost instantly) “Holy cow, there are *way* more people here than usual…”. That should have been a clue, as this isn’t typically my first reaction.

What did this mean for the spectators? Borderline chaos. As with Fenway, most of the stadium areas were roped off and therefore inaccessible to spectators. And in the accessible areas, there were (as with Fenway) natural chokepoints where spectators would mass–along the walls, along the rails next to events, high-altitude vantage points. With three times the number of racers, you had (at least) three times the number of people in the stands, all clamoring for the same, very limited chokepoint real estate. Unfortunately, the social behavior that you think would result *did* result: etiquette, respect, and tact went largely out the window, and it was every person for themselves to make sure they got “their” spot to see their loved ones or friends go by. To those of us who have been around a Spartan crowd or two, this was somewhat shocking and definitely sad. But again, with that many people–many (most?) of them new to the Spartan experience–crowd self-management was non-existent. Most of us “veterans” who managed to talk to each other by chance could only shake our heads and wonder what the hell was happening here–this wasn’t what we had come to expect from our Spartan crowd experience.

What did this mean for the racers? I did not race (obviously), but I talked firsthand with many of the racers (most of whom I knew, some of whom were just random strangers I engaged in conversation). And to a man, the response was the same: The lines at some of the obstacles were long. *Really* long. And numerous. Racers (the too-many racers) would jump from obstacle to obstacle in ever-increasing numbers as you got into the race, but because the racers in progress at the obstacle couldn’t get through them as fast as new racers were arriving, the queues stacked up. 5 minutes, 10 minutes at obstacles was not unheard of. It got so bad that numerous racers “burpeed out” of some of the obstacles, voluntarily electing to take the penalty not because of their failure or inability to tackle the object, but because waiting to take their turn would negatively impact their ability to finish in a timely manner. This, I’m guessing, should never *ever* happen during a race as a matter of course. But it did. A lot. I don’t recall hearing of many/any complaints from Fenway racers about obstacle delays; at Citi, this was definitely not the case.

Note: Apparently, those that got off early–say, in or before the 9:00 heat–had a much more pleasant race experience. More typically “Spartan-like”. But by 11:15–and I’ve heard much earlier, actually–the delays at the start line were extending to the near-hour range; the 11:15 heat didn’t finish going off til almost noon. This was due in part to the oversold number of racers, but was also due in part to the fact that there was apparently no enforcement of start times–multitudes of racers from later heats were moving themselves up to earlier heats unchecked; this explains why the late morning/midday heats were the worst of the lot, delay-wise at the start and throughout the course, for racers and why these delays tapered off as the day went on (though even later in the afternoon, on-course delays–though smaller–were still quite noticeable).

By Spartan’s own numbers, there were 10,037 official “results” from Saturday at Citi (and there were numerous people who ran multiple times unchipped, as there was no one actually checking at the start). This is simply an unacceptable number for such a venue; in fact, I would argue it would be a borderline unmanageable number for *any* Spartan venue. Compare this with last year’s race at Fenway: Again by Spartan’s own numbers, only 5,599 official results were tallied for the *two* days at Fenway combined (and the numbers were rigidly enforced at the starting line–no chip/bib, no race, period). Well over *three times*–almost *four* times–as many racers in a single day on average, and in a restricted-space venue such as Citi Field (or any baseball stadium) to boot. There is no other way to say this: This was a strategic error of the highest order on the part of the Spartan decision-makers who OK’ed this, and the aftermath was 100% predictable (and not just in hindsight–this could, should, and would have been readily apparent from the start).

Fortunately, this is an eminently fixable problem–assuming that those who make the decisions actually see this as a problem. I overheard more than one staffer (that is, someone with a staff pass hanging from his neck) make the claim that the increased number of racers was due to the fact that they couldn’t hold a second day on Sunday due to a Mets game. This is irrelevant and a borderline non-sequitur: If you can’t support more than X racers per day without negatively impacting the experience, then you limit it to X racers, and the rest are out of luck. The truth is that this reeked of a decision made by a business person, not one made by a racer who loves the sport.

***

I love the Spartan story. It is full of excitement and passion and untold personal triumphs. Spartan Race, at least based on my experiences with it up to now, gets a lot of leeway, simply because they have time and time again shown that they know how to put on the good show, both for the racers and the people who watch them.

And despite the apparently numerous gripes by me (though it’s really, again, only one gripe, but one with many facets), I genuinely had a very good day: The venue was gorgeous, the excitement and (dare I say it?) pageantry of Spartan was still there, and I still got to hang out with and cheer on numerous friends as they took on the challenge of Spartan Race anew.

But overall, it was like reading a favorite book one more time. Only this time, someone ripped out a few pages in the middle, scribbled something completely different, and by the time I finished, the ending didn’t make sense any longer.

And as a result, this particular translation of the story was the least satisfying of any Spartan Race I’ve been a part of, either as a racer or (much more often) as an avid follower. I would like to think that this was a very unfortunate but one-time aberration, and I will consider it as such–until it isn’t. No happy ending here, sorry. But the next book hasn’t been finished yet, so there’s still time for a good edit…

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Featured Review: Spartan Race, Citi Field (Stadium Series)

Citi Field is the second Stadium event Spartan Race has put on to date, and I wasn’t going to be able to attend – so I checked in with the team, and Kay offered to write a review for us.

Thanks Kay!

Also, check out our community reviews from the team: http://www.newenglandspahtens.com/spartan-race-citi-field-2013/

Citi Field

 

The first stadium series event of 2013 was held at Citi Field (where the Mets play) in Queens, NY. I went into this event thinking that it would be similar, if not the same, as the Time Trial held at Fenway Park in November. I was right, although there were some differences between the two, which I will detail below.

My only goal going into this was to decrease my time from Fenway, which I succeeded in doing by shaving ten minutes off of my time. I was able to run two laps, one with the Reload Fitness team, and one with James’ friend Mike, whom I had just met a couple hours prior.

The start line when I went through the first time was a mad house. They didn’t have anyone asking for wave times and putting those people in a corral like at Fenway, thus creating a huge mass of people at the start, which didn’t move for minutes at a time. We stood there for over an hour before we got up to the actual corral. The second time, there was hardly anyone there and we went right through.

For the most part, the obstacles were the same as they were at Fenway:

Bungee cord crawl – Up the ramps, like at Fenway. Over some, under others, seemingly endless and zaps all your energy.

Rowing station – Jump on the erg, if you don’t mind waiting in an epically long line, and row your heart out for 500 meter in less than two minutes. I burpee’d out on the first lap due to the lines, but made an attempt on the second lap, failing with one stroke left. I did not, however, fly completely off of the seat this time, so at least I made progress.

Ball slams – Lift overhead and slam down 20 times. Fifteen pounds for the women, not sure how heavy they were for the men.

Rope climb – On the first lap, only the women could use the knotted ropes. On the second go around, they told the men they could use the knotted ropes, but that they had to wait in the line (they were long as they only had 4 knotted ropes as opposed to 6 sans knots).

Jerry can carry – Again, some discrepancies between laps…first lap, everybody carried one jug, while on the second lap, the men had to carry two and the women just had to carry on. Up and down multiple flights of stairs. Saw lots of people emptying their cans out at the bottom and lots of people taking half empty cans to start with.

Hercules hoist – Higher than normal, like at Fenway. Not sure of the weights though.

Jump rope station – 50 times while trying not to get rug burn or whack yourself with the thick battle ropes.

Monkey bars – Not a solid bar, you had a smaller bar for each hand with a beam in the middle and some of them spun. Failed on the first lap with two rungs left, but nailed it the second time!

Sandbag carry – Not the giant, 60+ # ones we had at Fenway, just the normal pink for females and red for males. The line was huge for the women, so I just took the men’s sandbag both times, catching crap from the volunteers each time.

Pushup station – Hand release pushups in a hot, stuffy locker room. VERY small space that could fit maybe 20 people max.

Atlas carry – Pickup stone and carry maybe 25 feet away, drop it, do 5 burpees, then pick it up and carry it back to the start. Again, not sure of weight.

Hobie hop – Strap a rubber band around your ankles and hop up four flights of stairs. Once you get to the top, take off the band and go back down to the start. No lines during the first lap, huge line during the second lap.

Spear throw – Not sure what happened on my first lap, but the spear throw was broken, so everyone was told to just completely skip it. Line on the second lap was ridiculously long and I seriously thought about burpee-ing out of it to save time…and I should have since I failed it anyway and had to do 30 burpees.

Traverse wall – They tried something different this time, using pegs instead of blocks. However, they apparently didn’t realize how much longer it would take people to complete, so a few heats into the day, the normal blocks were screwed onto the wall. They kept the back two walls with the pegs, but lines were long both times I went through (I used blocks on both passes through) and I heard they ran out of pegs at one point.

Walls – Short walls, tall walls, over-under-through walls. You name it; they had it, minus the slippery wall, of course. The first wall you come to after the bungee cord nonsense at the beginning, maybe four feet high, had an unnecessary line on my second lap as they were only letting two people go over at the same time and if you needed assistance, you could only use the left side, and only the volunteer could help you, not a racer. Really?

Cargo net – Used a webbing instead of their normal rope cargo net. Loved it, but bottlenecks at the top where people were transitioning.

Box jumps – Don’t know the heights for men and women, but ten jumps. Couldn’t go over and back like at Fenway as they put the boxes right up against a fence.

Gladiators – ‘Nuff said!

No ladder walls, no tubes to hurdle, no ten burpees to start off. Reebok finally made an appearance at the merchandise table, though I was pleasantly surprised. They have some really new Reebok Spartan Race tech stuff: capris, sports bras, shirts, running shorts, etc. The Citi Field hoodie was nice too, not just because of the THUMB HOLES (Sorry, Vince, I HAD to mention them), but because of the general comfort of it, though the price was $10 higher than the same exact hoodie from Fenway.

Pros:

No mandatory burpee station
Longer course (so is the word on the street)
No mud
Medals were pretty rad
Not much running between obstacles

Citi medal
Cons:

No fast lanes like at Fenway, neither at exercise stations nor while traversing the stadium stairs
Ran out of bananas by 6:00pm (bit of an issue when you have heats going well into the night)
Discrepancies at obstacles during different heats (not sure if this is a Spartan issue or just due to uninformed volunteers stationed at obstacles)
MAJOR lines and disorganized as a whole
Timing computers were not manned by anyone and were down for HOURS
Expensive stadium food
Finish line area was really congested
Spectator viewing area was okay. Other than the finish line area (cargo net, box jumps, gladiators), you didn’t really get to see much, except for a far view of the sandbag carry. A bit crowded at times, but as a whole, the event was severely disorganized so I’m honestly not surprised. I think they overcompensated for the fact that they weren’t having a Sunday race at this location by overselling the event. TEN THOUSAND racers is a bit much, especially when you add all the spectators to that number. I was lucky to have been up in the Racetag suite for most of the day, away from the crowds, but just being down in the breezeway/stands between heats was enough to annoy me.

Liv did the .5 mile kid’s race, which I was really unhappy with. They didn’t have the course marked that well, part of which went through the stands in the spectator area, which meant that parents/spectators were literally on the kid’s course and refused to move, creating a giant, confusing cluster of chaos. I won’t touch on Liv’s performance, but I will mention that there were barely any obstacles for the kid’s race; the race consisted mostly of stairs, which is a little hard for 4-7 year olds. They ran out of the orange kid medals, so Liv ended up with the regular adult medal. I was more impressed with the mini course at Ruckus this past fall, to be honest. They seemed more organized at other races I’ve been to, so not sure if this is just because of the restrictions set by Citi Field or if they just didn’t utilize the stadium that well. I didn’t see the kid’s set up at Fenway, so I can’t compare the two in that respect.

In conclusion, I loved the course itself (and the bling), but I was really disappointed with the lack of organization on all fronts, especially with what I felt was a great set up at Fenway. I could have shaved many more minutes off of my time if I hadn’t been stuck waiting in lines. You should never have to burpee out of obstacles due to a wait. I really hope they employ the fast lane for the remainder of the stadium series events as it helps immensely, both with passing slow people on the stairs (which just wasn’t possible here with only two lanes) or breezing through the obstacles.

Either way, I’m excited for Citizen’s Bank Park in Philly in August!

Citi Spahtens

Also, I should note that if you complete all four stadium series events (NY, WI, PA, and MA), you will earn a Season Pass J Not sure if this has been made public knowledge to those who weren’t at Citi Field, so I figured I would pass the information along.

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Spartan Race Citi Field – live twitter feed

Got a New England Spahten update from the Spartan Race at Citi Field this weekend?

Tweet it with the hashtag #nesciti, and it will show up on our live feed – photos and Vine videos also welcome!